Pete Lumber of Newbury-based 137 Distillery tells Bethan Andrews all about how he came to be in the drinks industry and about his new destination launch
Sometimes, it just takes one brave moment to begin to follow your dreams and then the rest is history. For Peter Lumber, founder of 137 Distillery, this is most certainly the case. He’s a man with incredible passion and a real determination to get going on ideas. With such tenacity to combine his passions with work, it’s possible that this is why his self-taught gin distillery has been a success since day one.
It all began at the Newbury pub that Lumber had run for years at 137 Bartholomew Street. Lumber decided, in 2018, to launch a distillery in the courtyard. From there, he created a diverse range of Lumber’s Bartholomew gins. “In 2015, I was thinking I can’t be doing this pub game for too long, so I thought about finding something else to do,” he says. “I was having a drink with a friend who said he was making gin and I thought, well, I’m drinking a gin and tonic, maybe I should give it a go.”
Lumber credits his struggles in life as one of the driving forces of his journey. “I’m self-taught in everything I do because I’m dyslexic, so I’ve always taught myself anything I’ve done in life,” he says. “Rather than dyslexia being one of my weaknesses, it’s my strength.” Self-taught means that Lumber spent a long time visiting distilleries across the country, watching what they were doing, doing tastings and then experimenting with his own techniques and flavours. “It’s all about quality for me,” he states. “It’s about creating something and the challenge of doing it well.”
Fast forward to today and Lumber has recently opened his new venture – Eat, Drink, Distil – and his gin and vodka creations are winning award after award both nationally and internationally. These include two gold awards at the World Gin Awards, two golds in the USA Spirit Ratings, and a couple of Great Taste Awards. But how did Eat, Drink, Distil come about? “Like everyone, particularly in the pandemic, I’m always thinking to the future and my lease was due to run out this year,” says Lumber. “I thought about setting up a distillery somewhere else, but I’ve been in the food and drink industry for 15 years and it’s a part of what I do that I couldn’t leave behind. The concept of Eat, Drink, Distil is three of my main loves: I love drink, I love food, and I love the experience of distilling.”
So, what can people expect from Eat, Drink, Distil? The concept, which has also all been designed by Lumber himself, brings together food, drinks and a unique experience to Newbury high street. There’s a brand-new menu of fresh treats, run in partnership with local chef Lewis Spreadbury of Bread & Butter, and the opportunity to sip on morning coffee, afternoon drinks or cocktails headed up by London-trained mixologist Daniel Jorge Alvarez. Then, of course, the award-winning distillery has fully relocated to the new site and you’ll no doubt catch a regular glimpse of Lumber hard at work on the copper stills. To accompany this, and live up to their name as Newbury’s first independent distillery, there will also be a brand new gin school onsite.
Lumber tells me about some of the highlights of his time in the distilling business. “To get the recognition of over 60 awards in two years, which is the most of any craft distiller in the UK,” he says. “What makes me really proud is that the awards are from all across the board and are blind tasted, which is amazing.” It’s clear how much love he has simply for the process of distilling, too. “It’s like a switch with me, as soon as I start talking about it, I light up as a person,” smiles Lumber.
With such a snowball of success over the last few years, what’s next up the sleeve of 137 Distillery? “I hope that there will be a Bristol Eat, Drink, Distil in the future, and also a London site, too,” says Lumber. “I’m not sure when it will be, it’s about getting the first site right first.” It’s good to keep dreaming big.